Friday, March 11, 2011

Buddhist Temples, Synagogues and Fascists

One thing that always angers me is when people, usually British people, run themselves and the rest of us down with a negative comment then add  "...but that's typically British" or something similar. I heard it today about religion and was shocked to discover that we British, apparently, know nothing of any religion but Christianity. Oh really, is that right? No, it isn' actually.

Perhaps it's because I went to religious schools, educated first by Franciscans then Xaverian Brothers to eighteen, that I was taught in religion classes about a whole range of religions and beliefs, not just Christianity or Roman Catholicism. Although it hasn't made me an expert in theology it has left me with an interest in other religions.

Last week we went into the South Lakes for the day, only a few miles up the road and ideal for a nice relaxing day. First we went to Cartmel and had a walk around the racecourse, which is in a wonderful setting and who can resist the Cartmel Village Shop for some of the best sticky toffee pudding in the universe? Then we went on to Ulverston, where Stan Laurel was born and the Laurel and Hardy Museum is, and had a spot of lunch. We never agree on Laurel and Hardy, my beloved finds them tedious I still find them hilarious and can watch them all day. It may be genetic as my grandfather had to be treated by first aiders in the thirties when he did himself damage laughing in the cinema at one of their films.

But getting to the point we then vistied Conishead Priory, a wonderful huge Gothic pile now home to the Kadampa Buddhists who have built a wonderful temple in the grounds. Over the years there have been religious orders at Conishead, it's been a war hospital and was even a convalescence home for miners from Durham. As soon as you walk into the grounds you feel a sense of peace, and they do fantastic carrot cake in the cafe. There is also a well stocked book shop with a range of books, especially introductory books for those of us who want to find out a little more about Buddhism.

Last year we visited the Manchester Jewish Museum, another must if you ever visit the UK's finest city after London.

If you have any interest in social history or Judaism this museum is a must. I first came across it doing some research into fascism in pre-WW II Manchester and Salford, where the British Union of Fascists were very strong, despite the ludicrous revisionism of modern socialists in Manchester who claim it was a hotbed of radical socialist anti-fascism. Indeed, when the BUF had to close their National HQ in Chelsea they considered moving it to Salford, which was their regional HQ for the North. One of life's sweeter ironies is that the old HQ, at 17 Northumberland Street, now houses an orthodox synagogue.

It's always sad to see religious buildings close, especially if they are demolished, but when they do close and are put to good use, such as the Jewish Museum and Conishead Priory, they become fascinating links to the past and a provide a tremendous here and now. We are looking forward to visiting both places again soon. The Kadampa Temple is especially breathtaking when there is sunshine and blue sky, as there was when we visited.

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